Food is not just something that keeps you alive. It is an experience. Le Cirque at The Leela Palace New Delhi knows that very well, as we find that out from Marco Maccioni, who was in the city recently to launch the restaurant's summer menu
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: July 2, 2013
Food is not just something that keeps you alive. It is an experience. Le Cirque at The Leela Palace New Delhi knows that very well, as we find out from Marco Maccioni, who was in the city to launch the restaurant’s summer menu.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” said the famed writer Virginia Woolf in her extended essay ‘A Room of One's Own’. And we Indians quite swear by this, what with the affinity we have for good food. Not only do Indians know how to cook, but also how to enjoy it in the proper manner. Fine dining is not new to India, but varied world cuisines are. And that’s what Sirio Maccioni realized about India when he set out to expand his famed dining concept – Le Cirque.
So when his son, Marco E Maccioni made a visit to India, we couldn’t stop ourselves from interacting with this charming scion. Dividing his visit between New Delhi and Chennai, Mr Maccioni says, “India's ancient history, sense of family, tradition, unique and diverse cultures, and it's appeal for great food reminds me very much of Italy with its history, tradition and delicious food that is spread out through its many regions.”
The home of the Italian family’s dining concepts, however, is the bustling New York. And apparently, the city shares a lot more than just similar names with New Delhi. When asked to compare the fine dining scene between the two cities, Mr Maccioni said, “Because both cities are melting pots and cosmopolitan cities, I would say it is more or less the same, except that New York started doing things a little bit sooner. Customer understanding and expectations of fine dining are on par in both places and that is why a restaurant like ours can make a home in this dynamic city [New Delhi].” The fine diner in both the cities is very similar too – demanding with educated tastes, who will not settle for inferior facsimiles. It comes quite obviously since a fine diner is someone who has travelled and accumulated experience of great food and wine.
Le Cirque, today, is a French-Italian restaurant, combining two cuisines which are quite influenced by each other. However, it wasn’t how it had started, but developed into what it is today gradually. The history is quite intriguing to say the least. “My father, Sirio [Maccioni], opened the restaurant as a French restaurant back in 1974, because the diners of the United States had only been exposed to the gourmet cooking of France until then and therefore used that as their benchmark for fine dining. Italian food was also stereotyped as an ‘immigrant's food’, that it was cooked by Mafiosi and only comprised of spaghetti and meatballs. The ingredients to make high end, authentic and elegant Italian cuisine were not available in New York. As soon as ingredients were present, either because we smuggled them in our suitcase at first or eventually were readily available in the market, my father made sure that he brought the best of Italy to the table. The rest is history,” recounts Mr Maccioni.
Le Cirque, as most of you know, is housed at the prestigious The Leela Palace New Delhi in India. Considering it hasn’t set foot in any other global city like Milan or London till now, a natural question that came to us was why New Delhi directly? Apart from that fact that the Maccioni and Nair [of The Leela Palace Hotel & Resorts] families share common values, Maccionis have a long term strategy too behind this decision. “We like to establish ourselves in a new market that hasn't been already flooded by other trends in order to become part of the local fabric and truly give a sense of ownership to the local guest that we are welcoming and that will be supporting us for the years to come,” said Mr Maccioni.
Battling the summer
Despite the success it has already achieved in the Indian market, Le Cirque doesn’t fall back on its laurels lazily. It strives to innovate to keep its loyal patrons guessing as to what’s next. Thus, their new summer menu, has us quite mesmerized with its novel offerings. Taking stock of the fact that summers are excruciating in India, and that cool, fresh dishes will delight us, Le Cirque has made the appropriate changes. “For example, we offer a chilled soup as well as a hot one while pastas and salads can see the incorporation of seasonal vegetables and fruits together with seafood, chicken and/or other meats. Main courses will feature simply grilled, tossed or roasted fish and meat, always combining that with the flavours of the season. We will not have braised or stewed preparations which are better for cooler temperatures and months,” explained Mr Maccioni.
To give a better understanding, the Honeydew Melon and Cucumber Cold Soup, which calms and entices with its name alone, is prepared with yoghurt sorbet, red pepper brunoise, port pearls, and with or without curry marinated shrimps. Follow this up with Mi-Cuit Tuna, which is prepared with mango tapenade, raddish and crispy ginger cracker. If you want something particularly lavish, then order the Osscetra Caviar (homemade blinis, crème fraiche, red onion, boiled egg white and yolk), recommended to be had with frozen Belluga Gold Line vodka.
If risottos appeal to you, try your fork at the unique Cauliflower Risotto or Lobster Risotto. Take the evening forward with Asparagus Flan (crumbed asparagus, roasted baby carrot, vanilla and red pepper coulis) or Black Cod Paupiette (with leek, crispy potato, beetroot, Sangiovese reduction). This is, however, just a tiny glimpse of the illustrious menu. Dig your sweet tooth into delectable desserts like Litchi and Coconut Granite (fresh coconut meat, litchi, dragon gum gel, coconut gelato) and Blueberry and Orange Cheesecake.
What strikes us as particularly wonderful is the way Chef Mickey Bhoite has combined ingredients, which maybe pretty usual standing alone, into innovative groups, which were hitherto unheard of.
Mr Maccioni, who is a wine connoisseur, gives some valuable inputs on wine pairings with the new menu too. Mentioning two particular wines, he recommends Attems Pinot Grigio, a versatile fresh and fruity white wine, with a bouquet of ripe tropical fruits, apple and pear on the nose and in the palate. This wine is perfect with their salads and charcuterie starters, more savoury seafood pasta and roasted fish, and white meat preparations. The red wine which Mr Maccioni recommends is Rocca di Frassinello, made of Sangioveto, Cabernet and Merlot. “The ripe red fruit and plum nuances of this elegant well bodied wine makes for wonderful pairings with our savoury pasta and roasted duck and meat main courses,” he said.
Le Cirque has spoilt New Delhi’s fine diners enough to make them wish for the Maccioni family’s other dining options. Ask Mr Maccioni if we will see their other restaurants in Delhi, and he replies very positively, “I certainly hope so because both Sirio as well as Circo have a wonderful Italian feel with different levels of formality than Le Cirque. Sirio reflects today’s flavours and happenings in the better establishments across all the regions of Italy. Circo has a hip, fun-loving and casual feel that brings a more traditional Tuscan cooking style. I am sure that both would be appreciated and welcomed here where the ever more educated restaurant goers are always looking for excellent, fun and authentic experiences. Buon Appetito!”